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The 4 Common Types of Scams in Singapore and how to recognise them

This article is adapted from The Straits Times.

Here’s the sad truth that everyone doesn’t want to hear – scams are on the rise. In fact, nearly 470 OCBC Bank customers lost at least $8.5 million to a spate of SMS phishing scams earlier this year, and other banks such as DBS and UOB recently warned of similar scams impersonating bank employees.

So what are some of the most common types of scams going around Singapore?

#1: SMS phishing scams

In the recent scams involving OCBC Bank, fraudsters sent SMS messages claiming to be from the bank to trick its customers. Some scammers have made use of the same sender identification labels used by the legitimate banks when sending fake SMS messages.

For example, some of the SMS messages sent to OCBC customers seemed to have been sent by "OCBC" and appeared in the same message thread as previous genuine messages.

The messages often claim there is a problem with the recipient's bank account that needs to be resolved urgently. A link directing to a fake website that resembles the real one will also be included in such messages.

Victims who enter their log-in information and one-time passwords (OTP) on the fake website can quickly have their accounts breached and their savings stolen.

#2: Impersonation scams

Another type of phishing scam involves crooks posing as authority figures such as the police, job recruiters or government officials.

Using SMS messages, e-mails or phone calls, they try to convince potential victims to part with money or give up sensitive information such as banking log-in details or personal data such as NRIC numbers.

A variant involves fake bank hotline numbers being listed on Google search results. Victims who call these numbers will be connected to scammers pretending to be bank staff.

Common tactics involve claiming the recipient has got into legal trouble, or offering simple yet well-paid part-time jobs and investment schemes with high interest rates. Victims who respond are asked to pay fees or provide personal information.

The police, the Supreme Court and the Central Provident Fund (CPF) Board recently warned the public of such scams.

Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, many scammers also pretended to be calling from the Health Ministry and claimed they were requesting information for contact tracing purposes.

They often mask the caller ID number to appear as a local number starting with the Singapore country code "+65", even though they may be calling from overseas.

Scammers may also pose as one's contacts. E-mail addresses, for example, can be spoofed to appear as if the message was sent by a colleague or friend requesting money for urgent personal needs.

#3: E-commerce and delivery scams

Scams involving fake item listings often take place on e-commerce marketplaces, auction sites or trading features on social media platforms.

The most common type involves listing high-demand items such as gaming consoles or concert tickets for unusually low prices, which tempts users who are looking for a bargain.

Once payment has been made, the "seller" disappears or becomes unresponsive, and the would-be buyer never receives the promised item.

Some scammers claim to be offering "pre-orders" that will take some time to arrive in Singapore, which can cause victims to delay making a complaint or report.

Another related scam involves unsolicited SMS messages or e-mails claiming the recipient's parcel is stuck in transit and that a fee must be paid to ensure delivery. Victims sometimes fall for such claims even if they had not ordered any item.

#4: Love Scams

Posing as attractive potential partners, scammers usually target vulnerable victims on dating and social media platforms, often using stolen photos on their profiles.

After befriending the victims and gaining their trust, the scammers spin a tale about falling on hard times and ask for money.

They may also demand gifts or money as proof of the victim's love, or claim they need the money to arrange a visit to the victim's country.

Another common ruse is for scammers to invite their smitten victims to buy into fake investment schemes or business ventures.

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